ATHENS – Trying to walk a fine line, US President Joe Biden’s hopes to sell Turkey more F-16s while letting Greece acquire F-35s would give Greece an edge in the battle air – if Turkey doesn’t get what it wants – some defense analysts believe.
Biden is under pressure from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who said he will veto the NATO entry hopes of Sweden and Finland unless he gets 40 more F-16s and upgrading the Turkish Air Force, the US President backing down.
But to assuage Greece – after the US renewed a military cooperation deal that will see a greater American military presence in the country – the Biden Administration wants to sell Greece 20 F-35s now and 20 more later.
In a feature, The Voice of America (VOA) noted how the US doesn’t want to upset the balance of power in the region although the F-35s are far more advanced than the F-16s Greece and Turkey now have, Turkish jets violating Greek airspace.
Some analysts told VOA that if Turkey doesn’t get the F-16s – but Greece gets the F35s – that Turkey would be at a disadvantage between their Air Forces and in war technology, with Greece building up its arsenal.
They told the news site that the outcome of the proposed sale of F-16s to Turkey and F-35s to Greece would impact the air defense capabilities of the two neighbors and the power balance in the region.
Turkey earlier was denied getting F-35s after buying Russian S-400 missile defense systems that undermine the security of NATO and could be used against Greece in a conflict, NATO saying nothing about while praising Turkey as a “valuable ally.”
Both proposed sales require approval by Congress and faces obstacles, primarily from US Sen. Bob Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat and friend of Greece who said he will use his position as Foreign Relations Committee to block Turkey’s bid.
Sinan Ulgen, Chairman of the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy research group and a visiting fellow at Carnegie Europe in Brussels told VOA that, “If Turkey cannot get the F-16s and modernize its aircraft as opposed to Greece having the F-35s, upgraded F-16s as well as the Rafale jets it purchased from France, this brings the risk of tilting the air superiority in favor of Greece.”
FIRE IN THE SKIES
He said that could push Turkey to buy fighter jets elsewhere, such as the Eurofighter Typhoon developed by a consortium of defense companies in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and Spain.
He also noted that Turkey is developing a growing domestic defense industry producing combat drones and to build its own fighter jets instead of relying on buying them from other countries.
Jim Townsend, a former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO policy, told VOA that the US has been able to balance its interests with Greece and Turkey for years despite feuds between them.
Erdogan has threatened to invade Greece unless Greek troops are taken off Aegean islands near Turkey’s coast and said that it would be a cause for war if Greece doubles its maritime boundaries to 12 miles.
American defense analysts told the news site that a deal on F-16s for Turkey could be dependent on whether Turkey drops its objection to Sweden and Finland’s joint NATO membership bid.
But Erdogan, facing a tough re-election bid in May 14 polls, is holding onto his objections in what is seen as trying to gain concessions if he wins, critics saying he’s trying to rig it by his government prosecuting rivals.
“We are used to nations extracting concessions within the alliance over various policy issues,” Townsend told VOA. “Every nation has its national agenda. But they eventually will compromise. Once that election goes by, if Turkey continues to obstruct, I think it’ll be a lot of harsh words behind closed doors.”
Ulgen said he expected the issue to be resolved after the elections, saying Turkey would not want to be blamed for the stall while former NATO Commander, Admiral James Stavridis, told the Bloomberg financial news agency that the alliance needs Turkey – but also Finland and Sweden.
“No one wants to have to choose between them,” he wrote, putting the pressure on Erdoga who has shown he doesn’t care what his critics or the West thinks as he becomes more emboldened.
the onus on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to ensure that that doesn’t have to happen.